Sunday, June 12, 2011

The first (and last) thing I'll say about Anthony Weiner

A good bit of the brouhaha over Anthony Weiner's actions really is being driven by various subtexts: partisanship (or, in the case of House Democrats' calls for Weiner's resignation, trying not to appear partisan); the tangential (but important) debate about what constitutes "public" and "private" space and activities in this electronic-media-saturated world of ours; definitions of fidelity and infidelity; and a discussion of, for lack of a better way of putting it, the etiquette of when/how/to whom one can send pictures of one's body parts to another party. (Miss Manners needs to do some serious updating, methinks.) No doubt there are others.

All that brouhaha is occurring in various contextual vacuums and thus, to my mind, missing a crucial point when assessing what Weiner did. Once Ta-Nehisi Coates dusts off his Locke and reads Weiner's actions through the lens of the space in which they occurred, there's nothing left to discuss except Weiner's fate as a representative of his district. This is from a few days ago, but it's such a clear statement of the matter, and one that I've not seen elsewhere, that it bears repeating (emphasis added):

I think, among those of us who find the strict moralizing about human sexuality offered up in our political discourse repellent, there's an impulse to defend Anthony Weiner. I sympathize with that impulse, but I do not share it.


[I]t's important to focus on what Anthony Weiner's specific acts. Weiner, at the very least, sent a unsolicited picture of his thinly veiled privates to a woman. This was not a woman whom he'd met socially, or in some private capacity. This was a college student who "tweeted words of support for him as a politician." In other [words, Gennette] Cordoba was interested in supporting a public official whose positions, and stridency she admired. Weiner took that as invite to forward Cordoba a picture of his privates.

Weiner serves in the aptly named House of Representatives. In the most specific sense, he represents his District here in New York. But in the broader sense he represents a set of policies which progressives like Dana [Goldstein], Amanda [Marcotte] and I generally admire. His skill and tenacity in the media, particularly, made him a darling to those, like Cordoba, who shared his policy positions. When you represent a portion of the public, you are awarded a certain amount of social and cultural power. But the source of that power is always the people you represent; it's called a "base" for a reason.

Using the power of representation to send unsolicited explicit photographs of yourself is reckless. It endangers, not simply your private interests, but the public interests of those you represent. When Anthony Weiner goes on Face The Nation and argues for public option, he represents my policy interests to those who are on the fence. He is, essentially, a spokesperson for my causes and the causes of the party to which I belong. When he commits an act which injures, as he's done here, his allies share that injury.

With that said, we all must draw a line where we deem it appropriate. Early in the 2008 campaign it was argued that by dint of race, Barack Obama would be an effective ambassador for his party. I could see the logic easily being extended to gays or women or other minorities. The difference is that opening up electoral office to all Americans is a part of the liberal agenda. Opening up electoral office to those who would use that office to recklessly dispense unsolicited explicit photos of oneself is not.


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